New role for UT tight ends

A funny thing happened to Tennessee's tight ends on the way to another season of obscurity in 2006. They emerged from the shadows.

Once fullbacks Cory Anderson and David Holbert played their way out of the lineup last fall, the Vols went with mostly two-tight end sets. As a result, Chris Brown and Brad Cottam became key players in the passing game down the stretch.

Brown caught 24 of his 31 passes in Games 5 through 13. Cottam recorded all 14 of his receptions during that span.

Thanks to the return of seniors Brown and Cottam, plus the availability of two promising young tight ends – sophomore Jeff Cottam and redshirt freshman Luke Stocker – the tight end position will be an even bigger focus of the Vol offense in 2007.

These four guys are big enough to block but they're also they're fast enough to get deep and stretch the field vertically. Brad Cottam, for instance, averaged an imposing 13.0 yards per catch last fall.

No one knew heading into 2006 that the tight ends would be key figures in the passing game. Conversely, everyone knows heading into 2007 that the tight ends will be major players in the air attack. Will that make a difference? Yes. Knowing they'll have an increased role this fall has increased the pressure, the excitement level and the sense of urgency for UT's tight ends.

"I think that's nothing but good," tight ends coach Matt Luke said recently. "Those guys see what playing does for them. Catching balls from Erik Ainge and being involved in the offense makes those guys work harder when they know they're going to be in the game and getting after it."

Tennessee's commitment to utilizing two- and three-tight end sets this fall will mean a lot of playing time for Brown, the Cottams and Stocker. That is changing their approach a bit this preseason.

"First of all, we've got to get in football shape so we can play like we need to play," Luke said. "If we're going to be in there a bunch – in two- and three-tight end sets – we've got to be in good shape so we can compete late in practice like we do early in practice. Then we can make plays down the field, not just get through practice."

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